Ron Marinucci: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Ron Marinucci: Looking Back, Looking Forward

The end of one year and beginning of the next always reminds me of the Roman god of doors and gates, Janus, about whom I’ve written before. Janus had two faces, one on each side of his head, permitting him to look backward and forward at the same time. That’s what January—named after Janus—allows us to do. We can look back at the past and look forward to the future. I use this time of the year to do that and wonder how many others do, too.

For me, 2011 was a good year, especially in running. My ever-so-busy (or busier) schedule led to fewer miles and fewer races last year, but they were good ones. Without any real specific training, I was mostly very pleased with my race times and, if not with them, with my age-group results. With age creeping up on me (well, sometimes it seems like it’s flying past me—Einstein was right about “frames of reference” and time), I ran a number of races faster than the previous year or two.

Although other commitments prevented me from running some of my favorite races, such as Bastille Day 15K in Fenton, I did most of those on my annual race calendar. I even added some twists, for instance, doing the 8K with Karen and her friends at the Crim after finishing the 10 mile.

I was excited to run in several other states, especially in the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon on the Strip at night with my son Matt and 38,000 others. It was also great to run in the old, old towns and trails of Western Massachusetts on a beautiful New England spring weekend.

It was a good year to run into several old running friends, such as Ed Munoz. He left the state about a dozen years ago and now lives in Upstate New York. Ed had returned to Michigan for a sister’s surprise birthday party. While here, he ran the Big Bird 10K in Roseville and we had a nice chat after the race. I also reconnected with several former students, after a number of years, at some races.

Looking forward, 2012 holds lots of promise. Although I continued to ride my bike, those miles, too, were fewer. This year I’d like to return to past years’ totals. And, with our biking friends, Karen and I plan, if not an out-of-state bike trip, a cycling tour of, perhaps, the Traverse City area. I’d also like to get back to running this spring with my blind training partner, Michael Holmes, who is making a steady, if slow, recovery from knee surgery. I am hoping we can return to run our 10th consecutive Oak Apple 10K in June.

Those races I missed, I hope to run again. And, as usual, when the 2012 race calendars come out, I’ll pick some new ones to consider. I’d really like to locate a race, in-state or not, that starts runners in waves according to predicted times, a handicapped race.

Yep, I’m looking forward to 2012, as much as I looked backward with pleasure at 2011.

As 2012 opens, the state of American running appears to be quite healthy, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The most recent statistics, released over the past few months, come from 2010, but bode well for running’s future.

More than 13,000,000 runners finished races in 2010. In the midst of these economic doldrums, that’s about 40% more finishers than 2005. The number of those who completed marathons also increased, by more than 25%, over the same period. According to Running USA (, 5Ks remained the most popular distance by a wide margin. Almost 36% (4,670,000) of all race finishers ran 5Ks. Surprisingly, the second largest attraction for runners were half marathons, nosing out 10Ks, 1,385,000 to 1,333,000.

And the future of half marathons and similar distances (15K, 10 miles, 20K) looks bright. Personally, those have always been my favorite distances. Other runners have discovered that half marathons offer greater challenges than 5Ks and 10Ks. Yet they don’t require the training and time commitments and sacrifices of marathons. And they don’t beat up runners’ bodies as much. The largest marathon of 2010 was just over 31,000, so I’m curious to see if the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon that Matt and I ran in December, with 38,000 finishers, will be the largest half of 2011.

Contributing to the bigger numbers are masters racers. About 46% of all finishers in 2010 were masters runners, a percentage that has remained steady over the past few years. The half marathon that ranked second in the percentage of masters finishers was our own Brooksie Way in Rochester, with 55% 40 years old or older.

Another trend has been an increase in women runners. In 2010, slightly more than 50% of all finishers were women. Although this was especially true of 5Ks (note the Races for the Cure and other such events), women were running other distances in greater numbers, too.

Of course, the advent and growth of the charity races such as the Race for the Cure and training programs sponsored by charities, such as Team in Training, have had an impact. And, it’s been a good impact.

But there aren’t just more runners finishing races. They are running them faster than they have in 10 years or so. If the marathon is any indication, the trend seems to have reversed itself. The average finish time for men in 2010 was more than four minutes faster than 2005 (4:16:14 to 4:20:29. Women improved even more, 4:42:10 to 4:51:19.

Sure, there are more hours of darkness than light. It gets cold out there. The footing can be treacherous. Traffic poses even more of a danger. Yet, there are good reasons to continue running outdoors in the winter.
No, I am not lover of cold temperatures. I don’t ski or ice fish. But winter has always been my favorite running season. I rarely miss a winter running day. Cold has never idled me; I’ve run in actual temperatures (not wind chills) of 12 below zero. Neither has deep snow. Wind and ice have kept me home, but not cold or snow.
I love the beauty of winter running. Snow is beautiful. (OK, I admit I enjoy shoveling snow, enjoy it a lot!) And the whites and blacks, mixed with the grays and browns, offer very different portraits of the same running routes of spring, summer, and fall—pretty portraits. I’m not a big believer in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); it seems like another excuse…. But getting outside in the winter is exhilarating and refreshing, a real mood booster.

One thing that likely won’t happen in the winter is overheating, especially if you dress properly. Layering and the new technical, moisture-wicking fabrics help there. Winter running will also make you a tougher runner, both physically and mentally. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in braving the elements when others stay inside. And, it will impress your friends. “You ran in that temperature? It was below zero!”

If you’re like me, winter brings more indoor time to eat, too much of it. It’s not just the holidays. I don’t have the discipline to eat less and, in fact, I’m not sure I want to eat less. Keeping the running going helps to avoid or at least minimize that winter bulge.

Of course, winter running brings unique dangers. Care must be taken. Wear reflective clothing and even lights so you can be seen by drivers in the longer hours of darkness. Watch for slippery spots, packed snow as well as ice. They are often hard to see. Some runners use the cleated overshoes. Do watch the temperatures and dress properly. Figure out courses that take the wind into account, that is, finish with the wind at your back. Be careful with harder and faster running and not just because of the more treacherous footing. Muscles take longer to warm up in the cold of winter.

As 2012 dawns, I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2012.